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Social media: Which site is best for your business?

By Glenn Burkins
Glenn Burkins is editor and publisher of Qcitymetro.com, an online news site targeting Charlotte’s African American community. He is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Charlotte Observer business editor.

Of all the tasks we face as business owners, few are more nettlesome than trying to master the effective use of social media.

Aside from the sheer proliferation of social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc. – it seems that the mavens of social media keep coming up with new rules and best practices. What worked last week won’t necessarily get you the desired results tomorrow.

And who has time to figure it out? As vital as social media has become, it’s simply not what occupies our minds as business owners.

For those who can afford it, the Charlotte region abounds with individuals and companies willing to manage social media campaigns of business. But expect to pay several hundred to several thousand dollars a month for that service.

For those brave enough to challenge it alone, I asked two local experts – Anne Marie Holder of Spark Strategic Ideas and Brandon Uttley of Sales Performance International, both of Charlotte – to offer a primer on the strengths and weaknesses of some of the most popular social media platforms.

Facebook: With more than 1 billion active users worldwide (59 million in the United States), this is a platform that can’t be ignored. And increasingly, the experts say, it’s not just for young people. One of the fastest-growing users groups is people over age 45, especially women. Holder said her firm uses Facebook not so much to push information but to create an “interactive exchange” with other Facebook users. On the down side, Facebook has some very specific rules about what businesses can and can’t do on the “pages” they create.

Twitter: Love it or hate it, Twitter has its business uses. By searching for key words, or “hash tags,” Uttley said, business owners can get real-time news and information relating to a specific industry or topic. In addition, said Holder, Twitter is a great way for businesses – especially retail businesses – to send out real-time news about things such as lunch specials or limited-time offers. Of all the major platforms, Holder and Uttley said, Twitter may be the one that confounds business users most, in part because “tweets” are limited to 140 characters.

LinkedIn: Perhaps the best network for business-to-business use, this is not a place where users go to share personal photos and tidbits, Uttley said. Information tends to be industry-specific, and users can easily connect with others in their field. He said business owners also can find a wealth of competitive information on LinkedIn, such as new clients competitors have picked up or employees who have come and gone. To get the best results from LinkedIn, Uttley said users should take time to build a thorough profile on the site. Join some of the LinkedIn groups related to your business. Also, said Uttley, users should subscribe to one of the various news feeds called LinkedIn Today, a newer feature that allows users to see what others in their field are sharing or talking about.

Pinterest: One of the newer social media platforms, Pinterest is rapidly gaining a devoted following, especially among women. Holder described Pinterest as a visual scrapbook that allows users to create pages devoted to specific topics or interests. Topics that might do well on Pinterest, she said, include design, food, fashion, children and crafts. A high percentage of users tend to be mothers with disposable income, she said.

Direct email: Not everyone considers this social media, but Holder and Uttley agree that email marketing is an effective way to stay in touch with clients and build trust with potential clients. Email newsletters, for example, allow business owners to establish themselves or their companies as experts in a given field. Increasingly, email marketing firms are allowing users to incorporate elements of social marketing, such as Facebook “like” buttons, into the post they send out. Holder said users should maintain a quality list of email addresses and avoid the temptation to spam consumers who have not signed up or given permission to receive an email blast.

Next time: Tips for business owners looking to manage their own campaigns.

Glenn Burkins is editor and publisher of Qcitymetro.com, a news site for Charlotte’s African-American community. He is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Observer business editor.
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